God created vegetables to help us mark the seasons. Tomatoes in late summer, pumpkins in fall and asparagus, a vegetable capable of gently taking us from the dreary months of winter into early spring. Some would say the green shoots of asparagus rather than rusty-red breasted robins are the first signs of spring. Their stalks are among the first vegetables to appear in the garden, filled with vitamins, fiber and many other healthy benefits.
Italians like to use asparagus in frittatas, pasta, risotto, steamed and eaten as a side dish. One of the best known asparagus-growing regions in Italy is around the town of Bassano del Grappa, in the province of Vicenza in Northern Italy. In the Veneto, asparagus found the ideal micro-climate in which to thrive along the sandy, soft, well-drained, calcareous soil of the banks of the Brenta River. The area is particularly known for the white asparagus, a product of a regional famine in the 1500’s when farmers, desperate for food of any kind, plowed the land under in a search for edible roots and tubers. Prematurely harvested and grown without being exposed to light (preventing photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll) white asparagus has a milder, more delicate flavor. Appreciated as a delicacy, the white asparagus of Bassano was served at the tables of wealthy Venetians during the Renaissance and continues to be a looked forward to dish during Springtime in Italy.
The most ancient recipe was asparagus and eggs. This pairing is still served in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy as Asparagi alla Milanese (Milanese asparagus). A Springtime antipasto, primo or light secondo the dish is made with crisp/tender boiled asparagus, butter, Parmigiano cheese and a sunny side-up fried egg. If you like your eggs scrambled you can try an alternate version made with scrambled eggs like this one from Ina Garten.
Asparagi alla Milanese
Coarse sea salt
1/2 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for grating
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook asparagus until crisp/ tender, about 2 minutes. Drain. In a small nonstick, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add egg, season with salt, and cook until whites are just set and the edges are crispy but the yolk is still runny, about 2 minutes.
Arrange asparagus on a plate in a single, even layer. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grate some cheese on top. Slide fried egg on top of asparagus. Drizzle with more oil, grate more cheese on top, and finish with some more freshly ground black pepper.
1 -2 servings.